The Both-Ands of Discipleship Part 1: Word and Spirit

ampersandThere are a few really important ingredients to consistent perseverance and growth in our walks with Jesus. One, which I want to blog on for a while, is the ability to hold two seemingly dichotomous realities in tension and, not only that, to realize that those two things are essential and complementary to a holistic, growing, eternity long, walk with God. The believers I know that choose not to hold things in balance to a person have struggled in their faith, for they eventually end up having their faith hurt by a half-the-story Christianity. So, if you feel like wrath and mercy are incompatible, you will not know what to do with the wrath of God in the Bible or you’ll be confused about how there are still moral rules that govern us (especially ones you don’t like), OR you will be all about truth and judgment and have no room for compassion and grace. In fact, our summer series at the  Bible Church will be dedicated to this theme, and we will call it “Both And”. Today, we begin with the both-and of the Word and Spirit – living by the Bible AND living by the Spirit.

Too often many believers put themselves in an either or camp of: I am a Bible-driven Christian OR I am a Spirit led Christian. The Bible people believe God leads primarily through in-depth, nuanced, and systematic study of the Bible. All we need to know about God is through understanding his self revelation in Scripture. These people and churches have strong pulpits, are theologically deep, promote and protect good doctrine, and are great at producing high level training and teaching for their people. Most of the evangelical movement has historically comprised this group.

Then there are the Spirit led Christians. It’s not that the Bible is unimportant, but the driving force of the Christian life is the active and highly relational, quite emotional, experience of the Spirit. For them, the Spirit is always speaking and explicitly leading, often in very tangible ways. The Bible is normative and defines the boundaries, but the full Christian life is about the Spirit. These folks comprise the range of pentecostal, charismatic, contemplative, and, quite frankly, many every day believers who can’t quite figure out how the Bible is a living and active book.

Well, both are true and both must be part of the Christian life. The Spirit inspired the Bible to begin with. But too many Bible-alone Christians leave it there. The truth of the matter is the Spirit has attached himself to the Word today. The Spirit’s main role is, in fact, to illuminate our hearts and minds to understand, submit to, and obey the Word. The Spirit is working when the Word is preached, studied, read, understood, believed, and obeyed. So, the basis of all truth is revelation and the all that is revealed about God is revealed in the Bible. Even our specific knowledge of the Living Word, Jesus, is only found in the written Word.

Now, does the Spirit still speak? I like to say he works in us, illumines our hearts, he reminds us of Biblical promises, he sustains our faith, he empowers us constantly, he draws us to prayer, and yes, at times, he can give us clear, grammatically correct, word-like notions. Hey, if he wants to, he can speak audibly, and has.

Here is another important truth. The Spirit will never contradict his own inspired Word. Never. Also, the Spirit will never promise you anything that he has not promised in writing in the Bible. Please don’t get your hopes up on something your imagination hoped for and put the Spirit’s signature on it. That will lead to dashed expectations and depression. The Spirit might nudge you toward something but that is not a signed promise. But, he has promised you thousands of things…in the Bible. Also, when you get into the words, grammar, syntax, structure, history, literary context, and storyline of the Bible, you are actually hearing from the Spirit and getting into the mind of the Spirit! Isn’t that RAD!

The Spirit gives us experienced knowledge of God, yes! But, don’t forget that even in the mundane the Spirit is working and often does his best work in that season. Don’t assume that the big, hairy experiences that give you liver shivers are real or truly Spirit led moments. If you hunger to know God and to hear from him, ask for the Spirit AND go to where the Spirit promises to hang out, the Bible.

So believer, don’t fall off either side. Be a both-and Christian with the Spirit and the Word. The Bible is the final authority over belief and life. It is sufficient. It is inerrant, infallible, authoritative, potent, clear, AND is filled with the Spirit, both in its inspired writing and its power for today. Be open to how the Spirit will bring about what is in the Word, like your personal transformation into Christ-likeness, like converting the lost, like changing someone’s mind who believes falsehood, like urging you to an act of love, like giving you the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24), like guiding the events of history perfectly, like rooting out sin in us, like preventing us from saying something stupid, etc.

The Spirit of God is at work through the Word and also personally in our lives and in the world.

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